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Running To The Passive Solar Prefab House Despite The Cold And Rain

It was rainy. It was cold. Instead of running from the weather, we packed up our visiting guest from Germany and hightailed it to the passive solar prefab! Because even without radiant solar heat, through the passive solar design and energy efficient SIP, it was warm and comfortable when we arrived!

Even on a rainy day, the prefab's natural daylighting made it easy to pore over magazines and play board games... a relaxing day with, for once, no chores, nothing to do but play music and read.
Rain, rain, rain. Nothing to do but relax, cook, take naps... ahhhhhh.

Eventually the rain ceased, the sun broke out, and a gorgeous autumn weekend emerged in Virginia.

At the passive solar, off grid prefab house, we are thinking about how far we can go by Doing More, With Less. So is Germany.

Recently I read an article, Germany Continues Exporting Electricity: Renewables Driving Down Prices Despite Closing Reactors | Renewable Energy News Article, where Jürgen Hubert expressed,
"So far, so good, though the real test will come this winter.
Rainy day: Still, light fills the house,
without need to draw on the solar power
and we are aware of power conservation.

I am by no means a fan of nuclear power, but the decision by the German government to switch off that many nuclear power plants at once may have been ill advised. They should have been phased out gradually, as more and more electricity from regenerative resources becomes available."
But sometimes fast change like this makes people realize they can DO WITH LESS, and maybe just need to get over that initial austere hurtle. 
I say: Use it as an opportunity to question, rethink everything. (Although I can only picture the many Germans in their 60s loudly complaining... heck, they rise up in offended distaste over apartment clothes lines and having offspring, ha.)

When I'm in the off grid prefab house, I think,
"Well, I have an 1,800 gallon cistern. I know it's full, yet... I am the Queen Of 1" Baths. I have half of the double sink in the kitchen which I use as rinse water for dish soaking, for rinsing... I treat water like... Like you only have 1,800 gallons and it may not rain for months."

Well, it's been raining aplenty here. BUT: Rain is not a known variable. If everyone treated water preciously in Virginia, how many reservoirs would we still need? Same thing with power.

Everywhere, try to see beauty, light. But still...  sometimes smile knowingly, darkly...

Halloween approaches!

Mid-Century Modern
Holiday Photoshoot, with dawg.
However, for ourselves, in the mid-century modern ranch house in Richmond, it has been Christmas for WEEKS.

If you live here, you might have seen us *frantically* decorating the mid-century modern house for Christmas a few weeks ago...
Yes, Christmas...

Even as I started preparing for our "Camping Weekend" at the off grid prefab house kit at the beginning of October, because someone's child wanted a Camping Birthday Party (that ended up being a Pack Everyone Into The Prefab For A Slumber Party), locating tents and gathering ingredients to make camping food for 25ish people... I was notified by Richmond Magazine's R Home that they wanted to shoot our mid-century house the following Tuesday...

And could I please, since it would be published during the holidays,  could I please decorate the house for... 

Bring on the vintage silver tinsel tree!

I wondered if the art director would approve our traditional family ornaments:  recycled, emptied PBR cans. 
(Where, around September, we jokingly start serving PBR to our guests and collecting "ornaments"...)
They didn't, ha. That's ok:

I polished silver.
In 80 degrees, I strewed tinsel and hung ice sickles.
The statues donned Santa Claus hats.

Because, you know, IN PHOTOSHOOT LAND, it's frickin' Christmas.

(Did I mention we're now on Week 3 of Incessant Christmas Carols Played By Mechanical Teddy Bears?
Ohhhhhhh yes, we are.)

Frost arrives...
With Halloween fast on our heels, our Neighbors Who Took Our Hens, Catherine Vanderspiegel and Glen Vanderspiegel, have suddenly taken to exaggeratedly waving and loudly calling out to us as we approach our car on the street.

I shake my head. I'm sorry, but: Do these Cultureless People not understand that... You can't take FOOD from a FAMILY and still consider yourself a NEIGHBOR?

After the last interaction, where the Perfectly Freeze-dried Hairdoo of Miz Smug And Mighty tilted, almost cracking her bubblegum pink lipstick while she bleated loudly,
"Hellllllllo, COPELAAAAAAND..." I started to slide. It's freakin' almost Hallows Eve: My dark side emerges.

[Seriously. You take away our hens from our family, from our children, just because you think they're uncultured. What do you think we of Hamburg, Paris, New York and Pamplin Cit-tay think of you?]
My old punk rock self began stirring in my breast, and I started lowering myself to them.

I envisioned egging them, toilet paper rolling their trees, using my laser beam-shooting eyes to start a concentrated fire on Catherine Vanderspiegel's immovable helmet-head of hair.

This was way better:
To all those who think urban chicken keepers are uncouth:

They freaking took our hens. Who does that?!? 

I would like to point out that the fronds in front of me gaily waving, inviting y'all in for a cup of hot cocoa on a, er, "snowy holiday night" (?) are my bed of parsnips. I love my parsnip bed. This is an example of how you can attractively food garden while enhancing your urban sustainability while looking architecturally cool. Cool enough to be on the cover of a magazine, in fact.

It's A New Era, Richmond Rubes. Move over and die out.

Here's some pictures I took on the day of the photoshoot, below.  The photographer, Barry Fitzgerald, and the entire R Home team did an AMAZING job.  I wish my house really looked like that all the time, instead of the dog hair and children's clothes strewn throughout you'd ordinarily encounter.  Barry Fitzgerald is an *amazing* photographer, the R Home photos much better than my dinky photos below!

Here's my messy scanning of our part of the article for those of you that are faraway friends, but of course it doesn't do the article (or pictures) justice vs. the real, colorful, full sized, in-print version, so go get it, 'K?

And guess what, UNsustainable Richmond Rubes? Not only are your neighbors gathering and banding together to stand up for the right to sustainability... Politicians are taking note, and publicly standing up too.

To finish the weekend?
Crossing the carp-filled pool to approach the modern home's entrance,
at which point we braved a Ghost Zombie to enter the Party!

The Best Ever Halloween Party, thrown by a friend who has the most amaaaaazing mid-century-ish modern house EVAH (check out the carp pool you have to cross to get to the entrance), who, although HER offspring is grown & gone, remembers how hard it is for People Like Ourselves to find sitters.

So she grabs a caterer who pulls off The Most Amazing-Yet-Scary Spread, throws down a banquet table with straw bales as seats for The Children's Table along her long, gorgeous hallway, strews her normally IMMACULATE MODERN HOME with straw, blood, eyeball cupcakes, zombie parts and guts... kidnaps the Most Amazing Unknown Band From The Eastern Shore Ever, and...

...and A.S., we were GRATEFUL.

P.s. BIG congrats to our Richmond Green Drinks friends Julie & Paul Weissend's Dovetail Construction, whose headquarters has earned "...the nation's first building that has three distinctions: It is on the National Register of Historic Places; it has a LEED Platinum certification, the highest possible rating by the U.S. Green Building Council; and it is a "net energy zero" building that produces more energy than it uses."

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Contemplating Living In The Passive Solar Prefab House Sooner Than Later.

Yep, it's official: We're Thinking About Living In The Passive Solar Prefab House Sooner Than Later.

We had "A Ten Year Plan." Which is why we built the off grid passive solar prefab house in stages, with a pay-as-you-go slow approach. Now we discuss "let's move... now."

So it's Time To Get Busy on the final construction!

Next week septic starts, then we finish the solar hot water.

Last night, at the passive solar prefab, we watched the stars, all hugging close around the campfire, shivering and wrapping each other into big adult arms and hugs, wrapping the little ones into our coats and blankets... the sky is SO BRIGHT, crystalline clear. We pointed out the little dipper, now upside down, Hercules going sideways, Cassiopeia turning into a big ole 3.

It's beautiful...

With no light pollution, it's easy to see galaxies...

So yes, it's official:
Shockers! Handsome Husband was hired away from RVA!
He has accepted a SUPER job in DC, in technology, of course. I sure would hate to move this tech family out of Richmond... but honeychiles, like many families leaving for nearby, more livable cities, we can afford to do so, so can move to somewhere where one can have the freedom and right to be more sustainable. I'm sorry for the families that don't have that option, like the three struggling families I've chronicled over the past month, two of them jobless, who had their hens taken away.
(NICE job, Richmond.)

We intend to stay within commuting distance IF we move because of all our clients & friends here but it certainly opens up DC / NY more for business... Gee... Do ya think Richmond will make it livable like other competing-for-salaries-and-families-like-us cities before we have to make a decision on whether to move? Should I hold mah breath?
Comparing apples and oranges, er, or...
ok he's comparing rocks.
Rock Paper Scissors! Richmond Ashland Charlottesville!

You see, sustainability in zoning makes common economic and professional sense in competing cities and towns like... Ashland, Charlottesville, Raleigh, Austin, Portland, NYC, Boston, Atlanta, Asheville (endless list goes on...)...
From Richmond Magazine:
"...Just a few miles up I-95, Ashland, the self-proclaimed Center of the Universe, recently was named by Bloomberg Businessweek as the best Virginia community for raising kids. Ashland is also a relative poultry paradise. Chickens are welcome as long as their owners seek permission in town.

“We’ll typically put a limit of no more than five on the property,” says Ashland Town Manager Charles Hartgrove. Sometimes, when city administrators are feeling extra cautious, they’ll require a pen to contain the birds. But sometimes not.

“It’s not something we’ve enforced heavily,” Hartgrove says. “We don’t get a whole lot of complaints about it — and [we] get even fewer applications about it, to be honest. I’ve been here about eight years and I’ve had slightly less than 10 residents come forward in that time to request a permit.”

Hartgrove says Bloomberg in its assessment of Ashland didn’t seem to take issue with the chickens, and he speculates that many Virginia localities outlaw chickens not for health reasons but because people falsely see keeping hens as anti-progress. “I think a lot of it goes back to the beginning of the last century, with towns trying to modernize themselves,” he says.

Similarly, in Charlottesville the debate about chickens was settled long ago. “Urban chickens?” says Craig Brown, Charlottesville’s city attorney, pshawing at the idea that such things are considered unusual. “Are you sure you don’t want to talk about goats?” Charlottesville’s leaders recently amended the city code to allow people to keep miniature goats."
So yes, we weigh the nearby, more sustainable, cooler towns' options! Ashland's right up the road! Charlottesville's right down the street!
Wait. Why not run to the land, taking that sustainable step further?
A cherry tree is planted!

This weekend, we planted one more fruit tree on the land, a cherry, envisioning decades of fruit pies and homemade cherry jam in our future.

Why not cherry pick (ha) the things in Richmond we'd like our family to attend, like Richmond Green Drinks, like the Folk Festival, without having to deal with Richmond?

I have very much enjoyed raising my children up within Richmond Green Drinks.
Thanks to all the architects & engineers who have been patient when they have been present... and if we leave I will miss all the good times we have, the brain power and kindness that emanates with each monthly gathering. The Green Drinks community has been a fantastic support network and resource of just... really good people. I'm grateful to know y'all.

[Especially Scott Kyle, LEED AP, green building architect, founder of Richmond's Green Drinks and... thanks to Pipsqueak #1: Nerf Gun Warrior.]
I wondered how hard it would be to pick up four environmentally-friendly businesses and move, with our corporate salaries and diverse childrenz (which is how the private schools that courted us described my offspring... What, are they diverse just because they're bilingual or is it because they have A Crazywoman for a Momma, ha?)... How hard would it be to end the paperwork that binds my businesses to UNsustainable Richmond?

Easier than you think.

We now weigh "easier" and "more difficult" lifestyle choices, and now the "easier" choices are not as attractive, and the traditionally "more difficult" is not only compelling, but fun!

Speaking of fun...
I mean, really: Geez it wouldn't be hard to live in this area of Virginia (Pamplin City, population 199).

These people know how to have FUN.

This morning we went to see The Blessing Of The Hounds, which included seeing our friend Kim, the pastor, getting peed on by a bunch of hounds (it's a part of the tradition now and she just smiles, shrugs her shoulders, and keeps on giving her awesomeness of a sermon to a bunch o' antsy horses, hounds and humans!)....

We then did our annual Book Buying At The Book Sale at the Pamplin Library, which is in the old Train Depot, snatching up all kinds of books - in German, French, vintage cookbooks (like I need more), history...
Books! Books! A room full of vintage cook books,
history books, anthologies, and... more books!

Which is exactly what attracts us here: The practical, the hilarious sense of humor, the strong community volunteering together to put on wonderful programs...

(Richmond friends: Y'all come visit.)

Speaking of good people... I met a Quiet Leader this afternoon at Appomattox Court House's joint event with Liberty Baptist Church: Appomattox 1865.

LBC produces several amazing events each year for the community where not only is it jam-packed with fun, but they also feed people, and all of it is child-friendly!

At one point, strolling Appomattox Court House, I spied a man (or I thought he was a man) in the field and thought, "What the heck is he looking at? That looks historic!" So of COURSE I followed him out... and met a sweet, sweet teenager musing on the historic plaque and graveyard onto which we stumbled.
He didn't mind me; we exchanged small talk, and when I mentioned we were considering a move to the area he immediately piped up about how much he LOVES growing up here. He reminded me so much of my nephew B.- a quiet, earnest, still-water-personality that will be bigger than you'll ever dream because of his ease of being kind and open to intrusive adults, to any Pipsqueak... to anyone.

Later I found him sitting with Pipsqueak #1 on top of a hay bale. The same hay bale Pipsqueak #1 had begged me to put him atop of except-I-crossly-declined earlier that day. There they sat, talking, in glorious autumn afternoon light and again I was struck with the ease and openness of this young gentleman. Chatting further, he volunteered that he was from Richmond - "...but then I went into foster care when I was about four, then bounced around in Fredericksburg and other places... until my mom adopted me."

I asked how old he was when that happened. "About seven... and I also have some other brothers that were adopted!" It became apparent his older brother has special needs, which is probably why he pays so much attention to the younger or older-but-not-as-able kids. He strongly emphasized how glad he is to be raised here, how happy he is in this area, how close he is with his community "...even though I can be pretty quiet. But they draw you out..." how his ADHD and his brother's challenges had been embraced, and clearly, as *I* could see: How they THRIVE. I am looking forward to knowing this young man further... When we parted, I walked away, musing: "Quiet leader."

A highlight today for Pipsqueak #2 was seeing Lula's Doll. She had read a book about the story of that doll, so it was great to walk up and see so much HISTORY and folklore wrapped within one raggedy cloth doll.

It was... it was amazing to walk the fields and structures where our nation's war began to end. To literally step through McLean House, into the parlor where Lee surrendered to Grant!

Back at the passive solar prefab, glowing from the day, we played Gainsbourg and the children and dogs danced around the fire.

Another affirming weekend, confirming that considering living in Pamplin City, Pop-u-lation One-Ninety-Nine, sooner rather than later, t'ain't such a bad thang, at all.

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Considering Flying The Coop... At Richmond's 2nd Annual COOP TOUR!

I wonder if the off grid prefab misses us.
Naw, she's probably enjoying the quiet break...

Reader Warning: If my philosophical musings that tend to swell into a rant tire you, skip this post!
I promise to post on solar fencing and solar freezers for the off grid prefab later this week!

It rained three days straight!
So on Friday, looking at the downpour, we decided: No muddy-pawed visit to the passive solar prefab house! Until the home site has better coverage, it is just not worth all the work to bring children and dogs onto a clay mud filled job site to then pair those dirty creatures with clean sheets and mid-century furniture we'd *like* to keep preserved.

So we stayed in Richmond, the skies cleared, and we headed to...


After a glorious and heady day of music, throngs of people, beautiful skies and culture, culture, culture, we arrived home, feeling the sun on our skin and music in our hearts, thinking,
"You know, Richmond isn't so bad, did you see all the cool fun people today? Did you
see the smiles and vibrancy? Did you hear the music?!? Did you see all the people?!?"

I looked around at all these wonderful people from all over and thought, "I don't know any of these people! THIS IS SUPER!!!!! I LOVE THIS!!!! Go, RICHMOND!!!!!!"

And then... the first thing I saw when I returned home and opened my computer, all giddy after such a beautiful day, a lovely afternoon where I rethought my recent hard stance on Richmond... 
"Richmond is taking away our chickens. Please do you have a good home?"

Not again. 
Really. Let's review this:
Sooooooooo. It's "ok" to run your weed whacker and lawn mower for HOURS, and hours, weekly, and it's "ok" to water your lawn (ch-ch-ch-ch...) in the dark before dawn with potable water while it rains (which my neighbors DO, all the time), it's "ok" to spray pesticides that drift into your neighbor's (food) lawn, with no apology needed much less your neighbor's permission, yet...

You might hear a hen cluck and Lawz A-Mighty Call The Army.

Brav-O, Richmond. Braaaav-O.
I hope you're really proud of yourself.

So. It's "OK" to have all these cultures at your frickin' FOLK FESTIVAL but here's the reality:
YOU WON'T SUPPORT THEIR CULTURES LIVING HERE, you don't. Face it: These "fascinating" cultures would be unwelcome in your daily life, Richmond. Oh, PR people, don't point me towards your chambers of commerce and societies for XYZ culture. Because you KNOW that if you asked those same cultural groups you celebrate at the Folk Festival on their stance on chickens... they'd support me, you rubes, and you, Richmond, do not support this basic food right, hence, you do NOT support them, nor I, nor many, many of your citizens.
UNsustainable Richmond.

Heck, in quite a few places in Richmond, you even outlaw food gardens.


The sun-kissed happiness of a beautiful day drained out of me, and I bitterly thought,
"Same ole, same ole RICHMOND. You average, awkward girl."


You offend me, you Boring, Unsustainable, Unlivable, Unattractive, I can't even call you a BITCH because you're too bland, with too low intelligence and therefore not worth the fun of the venom I'd ordinarily launch towards a worthy adversary, you insipid bureaucrat, you.

You city of faceless neighbors, who report hens "just because Richmond shouldn't have chickens."

Do you *really* think the world cares about RICHMOND? Do you *really* think they think you're sophisticated? All those same big cities you admire and want to impress with your Arts And Culture already allow hens!

*YOU,*  RICHMOND, TAKE HENS FROM FAMILIES, many of them JOBLESS, trying to better themselves, to teach their children, connect them to nature, raise them knowing more about their food and where it comes from and how important it is to treat that cycle well. Blech. We've all had teachers like you... You slow-witted relic, limping towards retirement.

From the bottom of my heart I apologize to every family who comes here, where hens (and MOST things) are a normal thing in their (larger, yet more sustainable) city, and then has Richmond take them away... From the BOTTOM of my heart I APOLOGIZE for my hometown.
It probably took ONE COMPLAINT to some hairsprayed, awkward, perfectly lipsticked official for them to convene and agree, only a few years ago: "We don't want to look like some country bumpkins, do we? We want Richmond to look progressive so let's ban livestock!"

A VERY FEW complaints our officials stubbornly point out, when asked, when OVER SEVEN HUNDRED OF THEIR CONSTITUENTS ASK FOR THIS BASIC FOOD RIGHT (Oh you've seen our data, I'm the only one that's collected it and we're talking out of 55,000 calls, 100ish can be attributed to *any bird.* So there is something deeply ignorant going on.).

Handsome Husband-From-Germany and I spoke about it further. "It's just like the bureaucrats in East Germany, or Russian Communism... that didn't look at the world around them... these outdated people just need to die out." But why is that ok to hold the REST of us back? Why penalize our children, and other families, because they don't frickin' study current events in their industry?!?

Sharing information, education, community.
MAYBE, instead of just "Dealing With Richmond," as we have these past few years, MAYBE we should just cherry-pick and enjoy The Best Of Richmond and relocate nearby to a more sustainable, livable town until Richmond catches up

MAYBE that's not a bad idea...

MAYBE we'd come in once or twice weekly, do some cool things, see friends and colleagues, get work stuff done, then return to the more sustainable environs... 
Richmond's [latest] branding campaign, tweaked.
I know I've been pointing out some missing livable & sustainable elements within my own hometown. But before you think I'm *totally* dissing Richmond, let me tell you about the Richmond people and businesses I admire: They did it ALL ON THEIR OWN (usually despite Richmond officials). The things I adore about Richmond - weren't created by Richmond officials or the Chamber of Commerce PR campaigns but by the people
  • You can't begin a discussion on culture in Richmond without the success-despite-local-officials of First Fridays and the story of and continuing cultural emergence at Gallery 5! They did it all on their own and then Richmond took credit for it / got involved.
  • RVAMag : Curators and showcasers of emerging culture. Legal and not. I love these guys.
  • Balliceaux brings great food, music, and dancing together, and even has nights dedicated to spinnin' some good yarns via storytelling with its Secretly, Y'all series.  
  • The Camel is a haven for getting-discovered musical talent and an oasis to many volunteer organizations such as Richmond's Green Drinks. But don't get Rand started on what HE thinks about Richmond's arcane, outdated zoning and laws... Incidentally, that sweet fabulous chile Preston who is at The Camel is also a founding member of RVA Mag. I. adore. Preston. 
  • And yes, I'll say Richmond's Green Drinks even though I'm involved with it because it, and the JRGBC, highlight much more worldly cool architecture than local officials ever care to know about.
  • And while I'm in the architecture vein I applaud Modern Richmond and the preservation work of Historic Richmond, ACORN, and the APVA!
  • Local business success stories who totally give back to their community without getting corporately-mired-in-PC: La Diff, of course!
  • And Techead... begun in a living room, this technology staffing company has now grown to Techead Mid-Atlantic, and is an official supporter of all things chicken. 
  • WRIR, the thoughtful locally owned radio station with heart. Lotsa music, lotsa great programs on all things sustainable.
  • Allllllllllllllllllllllllllll the farmers markets that have cropped up.
  • The Folk Festival! The Folk Festival!!!!!! But pretty much every successful festival / games / race is brought in by outsiders, and you have to acknowledge that without lucrative financial enticement, officials would suppress it. However The Folk Festival and Xterra Games have really been embraced by Richmond citizens and are strongly, strongly supported.
I love this commentary by our friend Andy Thornton of La Diff, but... he's not addressing the *obstacles* one must jump in order to make this happen with local officials.

Why does Richmond always need to "reinvent" itself? If it were truly organically creative, it would just... grow, flourish, be embraced, and embracing. It shouldn't have to be this hard, or require a constant PR campaign. 

It all depends on the vignette they choose to put behind it, no?
I'd like to steal this sign to frame and highlight some "lesser" aspects of living in Richmond.


As Chris Dovi says, "They shoulda just stuck with the original branding campaign over 200 years ago, in Richmond's St. John's Church: 

I like this description of Richmond, and the wonderful arts magazine, RVAmag:
Even the world-respected ad agency, The Martin Agency, has this honest description of Richmond, and hence, my beloved mag:
“There are towns where culture hits you in the face and towns where you have to dig for it. There are towns where creativity feels at home and towns where those with the least bit of it are making plans to leave. Between the haves and have nots, Richmond constantly straddles the fence. The town is full of historical baggage and political barriers but also a stubborn people who are striving — successfully — to nurture all things progressive from art to music to craft and commerce. What Richmond needs is a media source that helps the diggers find what they’re looking for and the doers proud to call Richmond home. It needs to act as a symbol for where we are and where we’re heading. That source is RVA.”
— Rad Tollett, VP Senior Strategic Planner The Martin Agency
So, seriously: why does it always, always, ALWAYS have to be so difficult, Richmond?
My advice? Look at cities you consider "livable" - your competitors - and examine their code. They have many, many green spaces along the riverfront for biking, hiking... there is preservation *mixed* with modern design, and yes, they all have chickens.

Reflect on what urban planner extraordinaire Rachel Flynn had to say:
Here are the latest examples of Richmond citizens doing their own cool sustainable thing before local Rah-Rah RVA Official Cheerleaders ever even think of it. Can't wait to see these documentaries, much less EAT!

Reel Food For Richmond:
Richmond's Slow Food RVA Film Feast
"Slow Food RVa’s first day-long film festival will take place at The Byrd Theatre in Carytown. We’ll be featuring a morning session of kid-and-family friendly shorts, followed by an afternoon of feature-length documentaries – all recent releases and premieres for the Richmond area."

And yes, today's Richmond's 2nd Annual Coop Tour, successful DESPITE regional Richmond officials. (But I fully expect that in year five they'll be taking credit for it...)

Handsome Husband just made me laugh out loud: He said he wants to move me away and
"You sit pretty like that mermaid on a rock in Copenhagen."
Uh, NOT! #LovesAllHerBusinesses

Regardless, it's an adventure, and, for now, to determine year by year, a better place.

Why Not Rethink Things?
Often, practical choices may be more difficult. But... think of the reward!

One last thought: The video below makes me so, so sad. Apologies for his choice of words, but... he has some great points, and his frustration and rage are honest.

I don't think he's talking about one administration. I shared this with foreign and USA-friends-abroad today because I think there's something that universally taps into today's psyche within the United States (that resonates with Occupy Wall Street *and* the Tea Party)- in people's frustration with the irresponsibility of elected officials with their money. And in that vein, a recognition that we're the enablers. Maybe it's time for us all to realize that as much as we would *like* and *intend* to do X Y and Z, we don't have the funds for it. For now. Because that's what people do in Real Life. That's practical.

Maybe it's time for us all to insist upon the practical.

Pictures from Richmond's 2nd Annual Coop Tour, here:

We've already lined up the 2012 Coop Tour Series.
Be excited, be grateful so many people recognize sustainability is important and a happy, community-building thing.

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Passive Solar Prefab Is Inspected By Miz P.

At the prefab passive solar house, our beloved guest, New York's Fashion Industry Busy Bee also known as my Ex-Room mate P., reviewed what we had done over the course of the year since her last visit, documented here. Now the off grid prefab has solar power, a working wood cook stove, and lots more to make her more comfortable!

We took her riding and to The Appomattox Railroad Festival. Good times.

And we talked... A LOT... about lots of potential changes in store... but first we spoke about:

Plans for the passive prefab in the next year: Finishing the off grid solar heat, closing up the walls, and revising the original plans for the prefab passive solar home's landscape:

Landscape Architecture
We reviewed our original landscaping plans, envisioned two years ago by the very talented Topos, and how, with the reality of our more rough-and-tumble lifestyle, we are adjusting them to be more organic, to work with where we ended up placing the off grid systems and how we actually, in reality, use the home site.

We still plan on adding the pavers, as that soil is poor and pavers are a great way to bring clean modern lines to the outdoors WHILE helping to stomp mud off of boots and dirty paws!

But we've made some changes, for example: The beautiful, modern, sharp looking retention pool... now a circular natural pool. (Or, will soon be a natural pool.)

The blueberry hedge will be further downhill so not to obstruct the view to the fields. (And we love what Topos did with the field irrigation, using gravity to irrigate the orchard!)
The planted berm was nixed for a less-sloping slope, because in reality we have no time nor desire to maintain anything but with a bush hogg, and to bush hogg at such a high grade is dangerous. Especially for Handsome Husband, from Hamburg.

The cistern is not to the west, connected with a baffle, it ended up being on the south side, so that we won't drive over it.  We still want a root cellar.

Systems Update: Handsome Husband finalized the Solar / Radiant Heat / DHW Systems Descriptions and Wiring Diagrams for Pat Root of Root Electric to begin the next phase in the prefab house kit completion.
Here are pictures of what he wrote.
(Don't worry - we will go much more into this in much more detail over the winter as the off grid electrical / plumbing is completed. In order to read the papers, just click on the photos to enlarge them full size:)

We also had long, long talks about Our Next Steps, which we're still debating.

Chasing Wild Dawg, With Teddy Bear.

How do you get closer to your off grid passive solar prefab homestead by stepping further away?
This is the question we have been wrestling with.

We have opportunities afield. Watching Richmond take hens from jobless families, waiting (waiting a lifetime?) for Richmond to catch up to the rest of the sustainable and livable world made the lucrative offers more attractive.  Richmond, I only returned to you from guilt; I did my time, volunteering in many organizations, keeping on The Sunny Side, but Richmond... I just can't see you take away SIMPLE things like hens any more.

I consider picking up my FOUR enviromentally friendly businesses, two family salaries in technology and green building, and gracing somewhere else that values jobs, philosophy, and families like ourselves.

Wild Dawg, Grabbing Teddy Bear.
At the off grid passive solar SIP house.

It would come with a steep, steep price: our beloved land, our happy slowly-building off grid homestead, our secure and warm community and prefab home would then be hours away.

So ironically the thing that kept us in a town like Richmond - where you can't even dance in bars, where there is no city skate park (looks like even little Appomattox will get a skate park before Richmond!), where they take away your hens (in these times!) - has been our deep love for our community in Pamplin and our happy prefab home at Higher Ground.

There is no embracing of the freedom to be sustainable nor creative in Richmond.
Even in teeny tiny towns like Appomattox, when teens began skateboarding down Main Street and shop owners became concerned for Little Ole Ladies' safety, instead of banning the teens, they began talks to create a skate park at the high school down the street. Instead of crushing one group in favor of another, they provide solutions.

And in places like Appomattox (and many other much larger cities now), no one blinks at meeting a goat or PIGLET happily sauntering down the street!

So, yes: Just in time to break my irritated glare towards my hometown, P. arrived from New Yawk Cit-tay to throw love and light and fun back into our life after a long work week! 
It occurred to me that VCU's Fashion Department might benefit from my NYC ex-roomie P's visit; I mean, she IS vp at Vera Wang -> J Mendel.

But why would we spend time in a place that takes hens from jobless families. No... we scooped her up from the train station and took her straight to the land. Last year, P love(D) my hens when she last visited... I thought about taking her to the Virginia Museum, for a stroll in the Fan, but... neither of us, with her last Facebook Profile Picture of her embracing our now-taken-away backyard hens fresh in our minds... Neither of us were inclined to do so, for now.
Richmond takes away people's hens.
More citizens than you might think are flying the coop.

I ask: Why in the world would a green business (much less four) that embraces tech and sustainability stay in a town that doesn't. That is the issue with which we wrest.

Yet I worry: What in the world would we do in A Big City with two rabid children, two big muddy-pawed country dogs and a feral cat?

I sit and think about all the gardening I would have to transplant...
And it really makes one admire the lengths to which so many people in New York, L.A., and other larger cities embrace sustainability in less ideal circumstances - container gardens outside of windows, urban hens on top of roofs...!

Here's the latest example, in this week's New York Times:

If we left Richmond, we'd be our age, DEBT FREE. That's enticing.
We could live on the land, but Handsome Husband would have to commute. I understand many families do it; heck some families don't get to see their moms and dads for years while they "make it" abroad and send money home. But that might not be the healthiest solution for us... although the impact would be lessened with the technology tools we have today, like Skype...

We're just weighing options... *opportunities*... there's no longer any reason for us not to.

In the meantime, at Higher Ground we continue planting rye, blueberry, sage, lavendar... preparing for our longterm future.

Returning to Richmond, I had a half hour-ish to make some food for P. to take on the train back to New York.
I made:
Indian Catch The Train Rice.
  • Start frantically boiling about 3 cups of water. Once it boils add rice!
  • Sautee below in a pan, in a BIG OLE GENEROUS pat o' butter, because who has time for ghee:
    • GRAB and mince garlic, ginger (the garlic and plenty of ginger are really important, fyi), thinly sliced onion, throw in some minced chile peppers and diced green peppers. 
    • Add a can of precooked soft tasting beans, like cannelloni.
    • Sprinkle liberally with chile powder. Feel free to add other spices like tumeric, coriander, mustard seed if you have them on hand but not too much. Add salt to taste.
    • Add some diced tomatoes.
  • Once the rice is cooked (do NOT overcook, it should have a bite!), drain & toss it in to the pan with the vegetables and stir it all up.
  • Add fresh chopped cilantro if you have it on hand but who has fresh cilantro on hand when you're running to catch a train?

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